Ireland has always called to me. As long as I can remember there has seemed something magical about Ireland. A lifetime of excuses later and here I am. It is indeed a special place. We were in Valparaiso, Chile debating whether or not to continue south to Punta Arenas, Chile. I really wanted to visit Patagonia but it seemed I had missed the window. The season was changing rapidly and winter was setting in. Winter in Patagonia is no mild matter. Then there was Ecuador. I had planned on us traveling to Ecuador after Peru. Traveling to Quito and Cuenca, Ecuador had been a part of my plans for a long time but Laurie had really struggled with altitude in Peru. Quito would be even higher in altitude than Cusco, Peru. We were about to go to Guayaquil, Ecuador, on the coast, when I saw the great deal on airfare to Santiago, Chile. Two days after our arrival in Chile the catastrophic earthquake struck Ecuador. We would have been right in the middle of a major disaster!!! It appeared our time in South America was drawing to a close. The most likely course would be up to Colombia and then on to Central America.
While pondering these things I took the time to update our profile on workaway.info and by the next day we had received four invitations to go and stay at various places in exchange for some type of labor, family/pet care, help with a project, etc. One of these was an invitation to help out at a hostel in Glencolumbkille, County Donegal, Ireland. It seemed crazy to travel so far but sometimes you just know. I began to correspond with Paul O’Hare, the proprietor of the Áras Ghleann Cholm Cille Hostel and quickly plans were finalized, dates were set, and plane tickets purchased. We were on our way to Ireland!!!!
We allowed ourselves eight days to finish up in Valparaiso, Chile and make our way to Dublin, Ireland. Occasionally I would question my sanity about making such a dramatic change in our travel plans. Whenever I doubted myself I would watch this video:
It was a long journey!!! The first leg of flight was from Santiago, Chile to Lima, Peru. With a 6am departure it is pretty much a red-eye flight. We caught a cab at 2:30am to be at the airport by 3am for the required three-hour check-in time for an international flight. The four-hour flight went smoothly but when we arrived in Lima we found that our connection to Bogota, Colombia was delayed, enough that we would not be able to connect to our flight to Madrid, Spain. Thankfully, Avianca Airlines is great and put us up overnight in a hotel in our favorite part of Lima, MiraFlores. When you travel as we do any night in a first class hotel is a major treat. It is like when a contestant wins a rewards challenge on the television show Survivor. We strolled along the water to our favorite shopping area, Larcomar. We enjoyed a late lunch, delicious coffee, and amazing views. On the way back to our hotel Laurie treated herself to a full manicure and pedicure at a fraction of the price charged in the US. As we continued walking back to our hotel we shared a bittersweet moment. It really dawned on us that we sad about leaving South America so soon and we promised each other that we will be back. We are still determined to explore Patagonia however, with winter rapidly approaching, it will have to wait. Colombia, also high on our list, has beautiful weather year round. Ireland, however, is best visited in the late spring or early summer. We both agreed that this was the right time to go! The next day we caught an early cab to Lima’s Jorge Chávez International Airport . Our flight to Bogota was uneventful, but while waiting to board our eleven hour flight to Madrid we received word that Laurie’s favorite uncle was sick in the hospital. We had no way to find out his condition as we boarded our flight and when we landed in Madrid it would be 2am back in Los Angeles where he lives. Finally, we arrived at our airbnb in Madrid, where we would stay for three days before traveling on to Dublin, Ireland. We finally confirmed her Uncles Hal’s status, and although the news was not good, it was not critical either. Exhausted, we took a nap before setting out to rediscover Madrid!
We lived in Peñiscola, Spain as a family in 2002-2003 and fell deeply in love with Spain. We had a little flat that overlooked the Mediterranean and Peñiscola Castle. Collectively, as a family, it is one of our fondest memories. These are a few pictures we took so long ago. Our boys, now men, are 31, 27, and 22 years old!!!
Laurie made this impromptu video as we strolled thru the old city center of Madrid and caught me waxing sentimental.
We spent an amazing three days in Madrid and really became present to how much we love Spain and how we would love to live there. However, it is simply to far away from our family and friends. The following are some highlights.
Great video to showcase the experience:
Sadly we said goodbye to Spain and resumed our journey to the Áras Ghleann Cholm Cille Hostel in Glencolumbkille, Ireland. The next step would be a flight from Madrid, Spain to Dublin, Ireland. We spent one short day in Dublin and then caught a bus to Donegal Town where we would be picked up by Paul’s wife, Sharon, for the final leg of this journey. Six days since we left Santiago, Chile. Twenty-one hours in the air, five hours by bus, one hour by car, and finally there!!!! Our new home for the next seven weeks!!!
Glencolumbkille is a bit isolated and is best enjoyed with a car. Since we did not have a car we hiked, a lot!!!! Paul O’hare was great at dropping us off at points of interest. One of our first excursions was to the Glencolmcille Folk Village. The first thing we did was explore the beach area across from the Folk Village.
The Folk Village is a magical little place that really showcases the beauty and history of the area. We toured the museum and would stop in occasionally for a bowl of hearty vegetable soup and warm brown bread.
So many things to explore in the area. We found the local history to be fascinating!
This video was produced to promote the Glencolmcille Folk Village and local attractions. It really is worth a look!
On another day, Paul O’Hare, the proprietor of the Áras Ghleann Cholm Cille Hostel, arranged for us to go on a boat tour of the Slieve Leagus Cliffs. These are the highest cliffs on the entire European continent. Slieve League, sometimes Slieve Leag or Slieve Liag (Irish: Sliabh Liag), is a mountain on the Atlantic coast of County Donegal, Ireland. At 601 metres (1,972 ft), it has some of the highest sea cliffs on the island of Ireland. Although less famous than the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Slieve League’s cliffs reach almost three times higher. Here is a really cool video taken by a drone!
The dolphins were so beautiful. It was such a treat to be so close to them. If you look at the shore in this video you will see how wide a path the dolphins were taking. Although the video is only four minutes long the dolphins were with us for almost ten minutes!!!
On our next outing we decided to hike up to the Glen Signal Tower. The Glen Signal Tower is a Napoleonic signal tower. These Signal Towers were built by the British in the early days of the 19th century to watch for ships of the french fleet. Napoleon never made it to Ireland, of course, but the remains of a total of 81 towers still guard the Irish shores. In County Donegal there are 12 such towers dotted along the coast, all within signaling distance from one another, about five to fifteen miles apart. We were able to see the Glen tower from the several vantage points near the hostel. Especially visible whenever we were at or hiking near the Glencolmcille Folk Village. The little bump, on top of the flat ridge, in the middle of the picture below, is the signal tower.
Thankfully, Paul O’Hare, dropped us off at the base of the climb. We hiked to the top and down along some beautiful scenic roads until we got to Byrnes Market in town. All told we hiked about ten miles!
Hiking down the mountain Laurie sang her new, revised version of, “Top of the World”!
Once we reached the bottom of the hill we hiked into Cashel town. As we approached we came across a bridge that for us there was no doubt. This was the bridge, that underneath the Troll lives!!!
Somedays we just wanted a easier walk closer to the hostel. Court cairns are a group of monuments constructed for some kind of ritual or social gatherings. There are just over 400 of them in Ireland, and they are almost all found north of a line between Galway Bay and Dublin, ie in the northern half of the country. Just down the road, about a fifteen minute walk (longer if you stop to talk to the sheep!) is the Cloghanmore Court Tomb. This Portal tomb is dated to the late neolithic period around 2,000 BCE and is one of several in the Glencolumbkille / Malin More area.
We knew of a path that crossed the hill separating Áras Ghleann Cholm Cille Hostel and the Glencolumbkille Folk Village. Our first week the weather was too wet and the path too boggy for the hike. Finally the weather turned into Spring, the path dried, and we were able to hike. The hike takes about 45 minutes to an hour and provides easy access into town if you do not have a car. This hike is so beautiful and became one of our favorites.
Across from the Glencolumbkille Folk Village we made this video at low tide:
Donegal Castle was built by the leaders of the O’Donnell clan in 1474. It served as the seat of their formidable power until 1607, when the English decided to rid themselves of Irish chieftains once and for all. The Irish leader, Rory O’Donnell was no pushover, though, and he torched his own castle before fleeing to France in the infamous Flight of the Earls. Their defeat paved the way for the Plantation of Ulster by thousands of newly arrived Scots and English Protestants, sowing the seeds of the divisions that still afflict Ireland to this day.
On a beautiful walk along the water in Donegal is a special place where the fairies live!
Towards the end of our time in Glencolumbkille we hiked over the hill and down the road to visit the location of one of the most iconic photos of Glencolumbkille. The Church of Ireland and the Standing Stone. The name Glencolmcille (Glencolumbkille) translates as the “Valley of St. Colmcille.” Legend has it that St. Colmcille (Columba) and his followers lived in the valley. Between 4000 and 3000 B.C., farming people settled in the area, and excellent megalithic examples of their court cairns, portal dolmen, and ringforts abound. Most of the pre-Christian standing stones in the area were cross-inscribed during the Christian era. The village of Glencolmcille and the surrounding area is famous for the Turas, a pilgrimage to the stations (places on a route used for prayer and devotion) that occurs on June 9, the feast day of St. Colmcille. The stations consist of megalithic tombs, natural landscape features, and cross pillars.
The standing stone we sought was Turas #2 which is close to, and often appears in pictures with the St. Columba’s Church of Ireland building.
Quite by accident we stumbled upon Turas (Station) 13. The cross pillar known as station thirteen is probably one of the best known stations or symbols of the Glencolumbkille turas. This is due to the fact that it is impossible to miss this stone as you walk around the town.
After three great weeks with Paul and Sharon O’Hare we decided that it was time to move on. Although we loved exploring the area and our stay at Áras Ghleann Cholm Cille Hostel we began to feel the itch to go explore other places. Paul O’Hare was kind enough to drive us to Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland and that is where my next blog post will pick up! We miss the O’Hares, Áras Ghleann Cholm Cille Hostel and exploring County Donegal. We miss the warmth of the people, the long walks, and the amazing beauty of the area. It is a special place, a place to which I will return. If you have the chance, go!!!